Drug Overdoses Kill More Than Five Australians a Day: Report

April 15, 2021 Updated: April 15, 2021

More than five Australians died from drugs overdoses every day in 2019, says a new report by the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC).

According to the annual report released on Thursday, over 1,860 Australians lost their lives to drugs in 2019, with the majority of the deaths deemed unintentional.

This marks Australia’s fifth year in a row where the country’s number of drug-induced deaths is higher than the earlier peak observed in the late 1990s.

The report also found that cocaine-induced deaths have more than doubled since 2016, while the number of deaths owing to amphetamine is four times higher than a decade ago.

Epoch Times Photo
An Australian Federal Police officer (L) inspects seized methamphetamine after Australian authorities found Aus$180 million (US$162 million) of the drug stashed in a consignment of kayaks from China in Sydney on February 12, 2014. (WILLIAM WEST/Getty Images)

Dr Amy Peacock, Program Lead for Drug Trends at NDARC, told The Epoch Times the situation is worrying.

“We are particularly concerned by rising drug-induced deaths involving amphetamines and cocaine,” she said.

“Cultivation and production of these drugs globally is thought to be at the highest levels recorded, and maybe contributing to rising harms.”

The report also found a resurgence in heroin use, with heroin-related deaths having doubled that of 2009.

“This is the first year the number of opioid-induced deaths involving heroin has surpassed that of natural and semi-synthetic opioids,” said Peacock.

Opioids have been the culprit of most fatal drug abuses in Australia over the past two decades, having claimed the lives of 1,121 people in 2019, the research reveals.

While fatal drug overdoses among males are nearly twice that of females, they are also highest among those in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups despite mostly occurring in the 25-34 age group back in the late 1990s.

“The most frequent psychosocial risk factor identified in coroner-certified drug-induced deaths was personal history of self-harm,” Peacock pointed out.

Other common factors included disruption of the family by separation and divorce, disappearance and death of a person in the primary support group, problems in a relationship with spouse or partner, and difficulties related to other legal circumstances.

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A man prepares heroin he bought on the street to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Drug Markets Shortly Disrupted by COVID-19

The report comes almost one year after Australia imposed its COVID-19’s social distancing rules, which is said to have significantly hampered the illicit drug trade and use, particularly for drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine, according to Peacock.

Indeed, last year, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) Head John Coyne wrote in an ASPI article that the federal government might have had to acknowledge the “alarming rate” of illicit drug consumption in Australia “if not for Coronavirus and its broader economic impacts”.

“Further, its efforts to address the problem have had almost no impact over the last three years,” Coyne added, noting the record-high drug consumption in 2019.

“Without a little honesty and openness to new ideas, Australia’s illicit drug problem is on track to progressively worsen.”

The pandemic’s disruption to the drug markets is believed to be temporary, though after Sydney’s cocaine consumption quickly recovered following a dip at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Unless you subscribe to the rather glib philosophy that ‘it could always be worse’, it is clear that something must change,” Coyne wrote.

A National Challenge

Reducing the number of opioid-related deaths is not an easy task, especially in a country with one of the world’s most serious drug issues.

“When it comes to stimulants, it’s more difficult. It’s actually looking at awareness about risk. We don’t have what you might call classical overdose prevention strategies,” NDARC Director Michael Farrell said.

“The types of toxicity overdoses with methamphetamine are quite different… they tend to be with physical complications like strokes.”

But Peacock said drug-related deaths are preventable.

She suggested maximising access to drug addiction treatment and ensuring people who might witness an opioid overdose can obtain naloxone, a medication available over-the-counter in pharmacies that can be used to reverse an opioid overdose immediately.

“These findings reinforce the need for greater investment in strategies which we know work to reduce drug-related harms,” Peacock added.

However, she echoed Coyne’s sentiment on the looming reality of Australia’s drug problem.

“The trend over the past decade suggests that the rate will continue to rise,” Peacock told The Epoch Times.

In Australia, the illegal drug market is estimated to be worth A$6.7 billion, while Sydney, known as the country’s “cocaine capital”, has the world’s second priciest cocaine at $311 per gram.